UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' speaks to Gyanu Adhikari about Nepal's peace process
From the zenith of adulation in New Delhi as the first prime minister of republican Nepal in 2008, to the nadir less than a year later, relationship between Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' and New Delhi have stayed complicated ever since. Three years after he fell out of Delhi’s favour, 'Prachanda' will arrive in New Delhi for a four-day visit on Saturday, a week after his trip to China. On Friday morning, the Chairman of the UCPN (Maoist) spoke exclusively with Gyanu Adhikari about Nepal's peace process, the quest to hold another Constituent Assembly election and trilateral cooperation between Nepal, India and China. Excerpts:
On the last CA and party split
Nepal is preparing for another Constituent Assembly (CA) election after the last failed to write a constitution. Do you think the people believe that a new CA will deliver?
It's a serious question given that the old CA came with much enthusiasm and lasted four years. But we should also remember that we agreed on most things in the last CA. And the major political parties have agreed to take ownership of things we agreed on. The remaining one or two things that weren’t resolved in the old CA can be resolved in the new CA. Also, the Nepali people want change, and those in favour of a federal democratic republican constitution will get two thirds of votes. That will make it easier to write the constitution.
As the biggest party in the last CA, do you think the UCPN (Maoist) deserves most of the blame CA's failure?
If everybody is willing to share the blame, yes. I agree with that in principle. But if we look at it from the angle of responsibility towards the people and the nation, it was necessary for us to take the stance on federalism. Those who couldn't accept federalism share greater blame.
The Maoist party split soon after the CA expired. Could you have done more – such as provide a greater share of power in the party and government – to keep the party intact?
I tried hard to keep the party from splitting. Even when I was the Prime Minister [in 2009] our friends were ready to split the party. I compromised and adjusted a lot. Later, in the Palungtar meet, I compromised with Baidya ji [ the leader of the splinter Maoist party, CPN-Maoist]. This created some misperceptions in the party, media, and among the intellectual circles that I compromised too much to please the hardliners. But despite all efforts, they left. If I'd compromised more with them, it'd have put the party and the country in a difficult situation.
Do you think the splinter Maoist party will attempt a revolt?
I don't think they will. They will try something mischievous to present themselves as a separate political entity. But the national, international and regional situation doesn't allow a revolt. In fact, it will be suicidal for them to go for a revolt. They will be finished off. So my request to them is clear: please, don't take that path. Understand the reality today and help Nepal write a constitution by participating in the CA elections.
Why couldn't Nepal have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) after all these years since the end of the 'People's War'?
I took the initiative to form the TRC and a commission to investigate the disappeared during my tenure as the prime minister. But the parties couldn't agree. There was ultimately an agreement, but the CA lapsed right then. There's an agreement today, an ordinance has been issued and the process will now move forward.
Do you consider the arrest of Nepal Army Colonel Kumar Lama in the UK on charges of torture committed during the 'People's War' legitimate?
No, I consider it downright wrong because Nepal's peace process is moving in a positive direction. Extremely complicated and sensitive issues have been solved. For a country in the European Union, that too, a country like the UK, to arrest Kumar Lama when it knew Nepal is in the process of forming a TRC sends a very bad message to the Nepali people.
On the Chief Justice-led government
Why did you propose a non-political figure like the Chief Justice as the prime minister?
For nine months, we held discussions with the parties but we couldn't agree on who will lead the election government. Without an agreement there'd be no election, and without election, Nepal's political changes won't be institutionalised. For that, first, we proposed elections under Baburam Bhattarai. Then we suggested reviving the CA. None of these worked. Neither did our proposal that Nepali Congress would follow Bhattrai after some time. There was no agreement on an independent candidate either, or on a former Chief Justice. Seeing all this, I proposed the sitting Chief Justice. Eventually, despite the differences, parties agreed to it.
Some people allege that India tried hard to form this government, and you were merely used to fulfill that objective.
I think this culture of seeing everybody being used by others is wrong. We have to start with whether the idea is right for Nepal. If it is right, it doesn't matter whether it's America, China, India, Maoist, I, or anyone else who makes the proposal. If it is wrong, it's wrong no matter who says it. I think we Nepalis' psychology is a little fraught with inferiority complex, we see a foreign hand in everything. Even the things we do ourselves, it doesn't feel like that to us.
As far as making the Chief Justice the head of the government is concerned, I'd heard the Americans say it, and I had heard about the idea from other countries too, including India. But idea wouldn't be implemented here unless we Nepalis wanted it. I proposed it and I take the responsibility.
How do you evaluate the government so far?
It's doing well. The political environment is geared towards election. I am confident that election will be held in November.
What if there is no election November?
Let's not even speculate on that. I just came back from Beijing, and I'm going to India tomorrow. Both of our neighbours want elections in Nepal, as does Europe and the US. With major Nepali parties and the international community so keen to have elections, it's absolutely certain elections will take place.
How do you plan to bring the opposing parties to join the election process?
I've put a couple of proposals to the High Level Political Mechanism in the last meeting which will convince all small parties, even the Baidya faction, to join the election. If the Baidya faction doesn't join, it will be isolated badly. I've proposed eliminating the threshold in the elections to make the CA elections more inclusive, and keeping the ratio of directly elected (First Past the Post) and proportional representation intact – especially since Upendra Yadav, Ashok Rai, even Baidyaji, as well as other smaller parties want it to be so. I think this proposal will eventually be accepted by all.
On neighbouring countries
You came back from China, the land of Mao and communism. Did it seem like a communist country to you?
This is a complex question. To be sure, there's a state and government under the leadership of the communist party. There are large portraits of Mao wherever you go. Seeing all this, I'm sure there's an emotional attachment to communism. But the way China has developed – there are skyscrapers and industries everywhere – that doesn't appear traditionally communist. It looks like a new kind of communism.
Does your party's ideological outlook match this new communism?
Our party evolved from a position of supporting the Cultural Revolution. Present-day Chinese communists consider the Cultural Revolution a mistake. So there's a debate there. But it's essential to add that we're seriously and positively studying the liberalisation and reforms introduced by Deng Xiaoping. Since we're also advocating economic growth, we think we should learn from the current policies of the Communist Party of China.
Moving on to India, your relationship with New Delhi soured after the Katuwal incident.How has it changed since?
The Katuwal incident posed serious challenges for me. First, our narrow-minded friends in the party – who have since left -- created many quarrels. The way I was forced to handle the Katuwal incident, to a certain extent, was because of internal party problems. I also felt that people I counted on to help me, didn't. At that point, our relationship with India became a little cold. But the situation has changed, because we've been engaged in an exchange of ideas and interactions in many forms. I've felt that I didn't show the maturity I should've shown while handling the Katuwal incident. The environment also warmed after we saw that India, too, sought improved relationship with the Maoist party.
How are the people to understand this warmth of relationship? Can you give us an example to illustrate the point?
The increase in warmth means increased support to conclude the peace process, write the constitution, and achieve economic development. And coldness rises out of lack of confidence in each other. Today, I see that India wants CA election and a constitution in Nepal as soon as possible. We, too, want that. I've also felt that India is more willing than before to support Nepal's development. In addition, the way Bhattarai's government was formed, with support from the Madhesi morcha and our neighbours, also helped improve relations.
You've advocated tripartite cooperation between China, Nepal and India to further development in Nepal. Why?
Our geopolitics, or rather, our geography, dictates that Nepal can make progress and protect its independence only by cooperating with our large neighbours. Looking at this historical truth dictated by our geography, and the political developments, I saw that the tripartite agreement benefits all three countries. But it benefits Nepal more than India or China.
Given that there seem to be issues in the bilateral relation, such as the acrimony within your party over signing the BIPPA agreement with India, how can we hope that a trilateral cooperation in Nepal's benefit will materialise?
Of course, we are not against bilateral relations. Our bilateral cooperation with both China and India will continue. The trilateral cooperation is a vision, but it's not a substitute for bilateral relation, and it doesn't have to happen right away. The analysis from the Indian Foreign Minister that it's a vision and strategy whose time hasn't arrived seems right to me. After all, it will move forward only if all three countries agree to it. But since the trilateral vision is in Nepal's interest, I will continue to support the idea.
I also bring this up because in the past, the state under the Maharaja tried to play China and India by appearing closer to one country or another. Nepal got left behind terms of economic development because of that. Such politics became the culture of feudalists and dictators of the past, and I have tried to change that.
Many Nepalis think of Bejing and New Delhi when talking of neighbours. But wouldn't focusing on Nepal's immediate neighouring states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in India and Tibet in China be more beneficial for economic development?
This depends on how the central leadership thinks in those countries. Only after we have understanding with the centre will there be developments with UP and Bihar, or Tibet.
On Maoist revolution
What part of the Maoist revolution in Nepal do you think is complete, and what remains?
Some fundamentals we thought of in the past have certainly been completed -- such as the declaration of republicanism, federalism, secularism, inclusion and proportional representation for those who've had to face discrimination and oppression. There's more to do, but we believe that the remaining part can be finished through peaceful, competitive and democratic politics.
Finally, who do you see as progressive force in Nepali politics? And who do you see as status quoist and nationalist?
First, I see the common Nepali people as patriotic and nationalist. Party-wise, in principle, the powers that are for change are those that want to institutionalise the federal democratic republic. Powers opposed to Nepali peoples' quest for identity, rights and proportional representation are the status quoists.